Tag Archives: John Kerry

Israeli spy agency Mossad ‘Wiretapped John Kerry’s Phone During Peace Talks’

Intelligence sources claim Mossad intercepted John Kerry’s calls during peace talks earlier this year.

Israel wiretapped US Foreign Secretary John Kerry’s phone while he was brokering peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and the Jewish state, intelligence sources have claimed.

Israeli intelligence agencies intercepted Kerry’s phone calls and listened to his conversations via satellite while he was attempting to reach a peace deal between Israel and Palestine earlier this year, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported.

The Israeli government then used the information obtained from Kerry’s conversations in its negotiations. The US-led peace talks fell apart at the end of April.

The US State Department and Israel both declined Der Spiegel‘s request for comment on the matter.

Kerry used encrypted phone lines, but also discussed issues with Israel, Palestine and the Arab states on normal phones, allowing Israeli spies to intercept his unsecured conversations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting in Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting in Jerusalem.(Reuters)
In addition to Israel’s intelligence agencies, at least one other spy service monitored Kerry’s calls, Der Spiegel reported.

The revelations could further fracture US-Israeli relations, which are already strained following Israel’s military offensive on the Gaza Strip, which has killed almost 200 Palestinians since the latest ceasefire broke down.

UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said that the conflict in Gaza has become “intolerable”.

Some 1,740 Palestinians have died since Israel launched its military incursion “Operation Protective Edge” at the start of July. An estimated 65 Israelis have been killed.

On Sunday, it was reported that at least 10 people and a further 30 were injured when a school run by the United Nations in Rafah, southern Gaza was hit by an Israeli airstrike.

Robert Turner, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said the attack could not have been an accident because the agency informs the Israeli Defence Force of all its sites and shelters daily.

At least six UN shelters have been hit by Israeli airstrikes since the conflict began, killing several people including many children.

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Lavrov, Kerry To Hold Vienna Talks On June 30

Sergei Lavrov (left) did not give any information on what ground would be covered in his talks with John Kerry on June 30.

Russia’s foreign minister will meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna on June 30.

Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow on June 29 that he will soon depart for Vienna for the talks.

He did not give any details about the discussions.

Kerry and the foreign ministers of Iran, Britain, France, and Germany are in Vienna, together with officials from the European Union, Russia, and China, for talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Those talks face a June 30 deadline, but top officials have said there could be an extension “for a few days.”

The goal of the talks is an agreement under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The six powers want limits on Tehran’s programs that could have a military use. Tehran denies it is pursuing such weapons.

Cuba deal comes from 18 months of secret diplomacy

web1_2014-12-22T211809Z_2_LYNXMPEABL0SD_RTROPTP_4_CUBA-USA.jpg
U.S. President Barack Obama announces a shift in policy toward Cuba while delivering an address to the nation from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, December 17, 2014

WASHINGTON/MIAMI — The December breakthrough that upended a half-century of U.S.-Cuba enmity has been portrayed as the fruit of 18 months of secret diplomacy.

But Reuters interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the process reveal a longer, painstakingly cautious quest by U.S. President Barack Obama and veteran Cuba specialists to forge the historic rapprochement.

As now-overt U.S.-Cuban negotiations continue this month, Reuters also has uncovered new details of how talks began and how they stalled in late 2013 during secret sessions in Canada. Senior administration officials and others also revealed how both countries sidelined their foreign policy bureaucracies and how Obama sought the Vatican’s blessing to pacify opponents.

Obama’s opening to Havana could help restore Washington’s influence in Latin America and give him a much-needed foreign policy success.

But the stop-and-start way the outreach unfolded, with deep mistrust on both sides, illustrates the obstacles Washington and Havana face to achieving a lasting detente.

Obama was not the first Democratic president to reach out to Cuba, but his attempt took advantage of – and carefully judged – a generational shift among Cuban-Americans that greatly reduced the political risks.

In a May 2008 speech to the conservative Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, Obama set out a new policy allowing greater travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, though he added he would keep the embargo in place as leverage.

“Obama understood that the policy changes he was proposing in 2008 were popular in the Cuban-American community so he was not taking a real electoral risk,” said Dan Restrepo, then Obama’s top Latin America adviser.

Six months later, Obama was validated by an unexpectedly high 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote, and in 2012 he won 48 percent – a record for a Democrat.

With his final election over, Obama instructed aides in December 2012 to make Cuba a priority and “see how far we could push the envelope,” recalled Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Advisor who has played a central role in shaping Cuba policy.

Helping pave the way was an early 2013 visit to Miami by Obama’s top Latin American adviser Ricardo Zuniga. As a young specialist at the State Department he had contributed to a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate that, according to another former senior official who worked on it, marked the first such internal assessment that the economic embargo of Cuba had failed.

He met a representative of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, and young Cuban-Americans who, according to one person present, helped confirm the waning influence of older Cuban exiles who have traditionally supported the half-century-old embargo.

But the White House wasn’t certain. “I don’t think we ever reached a point where we thought we wouldn’t have to worry about the reaction in Miami,” a senior U.S. official said.

The White House quietly proposed back-channel talks to the Cubans in April 2013, after getting notice that Havana would be receptive, senior U.S. officials said.

Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that “vested interests” there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach, said a former senior U.S. official. Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the talks only after it appeared they might be fruitful, officials said.

Cuban President Raul Castro operated secretly too. Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s foreign ministry, was cut out, two Americans close to the process said. Vidal could not be reached for comment.

The meetings began in June 2013 with familiar Cuban harangues about the embargo and other perceived wrongs. Rhodes used his relative youth to volley back.

“Part of the point was ‘Look I wasn’t even born when this policy was put in place … We want to hear and talk about the future’,” said Rhodes, 37.

“THE CUBANS WERE DUG IN”

Obama’s people-to-people Cuba strategy was complicated by one person in particular: Alan Phillip Gross.

The U.S. government had sent Gross, a USAID contractor, on risky missions to deliver communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. His December 2009 arrest put Obama’s planned “new beginning” with Cuba on hold.

The secret talks were almost derailed by Havana’s steadfast demand that Obama swap the “Cuban Three,” a cell of Cuban spies convicted in Miami but considered heroes in Havana, for Gross.

Obama refused a straight trade because Washington denied Gross was a spy and the covert diplomacy stalled as 2013 ended.

Even as Obama and Castro shook hands at the Johannesburg memorial service for South African leader Nelson Mandela, the situation behind the scenes did not look very hopeful.

“The Cubans were dug in … And we did kind of get stuck on this,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes and Zuniga spent more than 70 hours negotiating with the Cubans, mostly at Canadian government facilities in Ottawa.

By late spring 2014, Gross’ friends and family grew alarmed over his physical and psychological state. The White House and the Cubans knew that if he died in prison, repairing relations would be left to another generation.

With Gross’ mother, Evelyn, dying of lung cancer, the U.S. government and his legal team launched an effort to convince the Cubans to grant him a furlough to see her.

That bid failed, despite an offer by Gross’s lawyer Scott Gilbert to sit in his jail cell as collateral.

But a turning point had occurred at a January 2014 meeting in Toronto. The Americans proposed – to the Cubans’ surprise – throwing Rolando Sarraff, a spy for Washington imprisoned in Cuba since 1995, into the deal, U.S. participants said.

The White House could claim it was a true “spy swap,” giving it political cover. But it took 11 more months to seal the deal.

Castro did not immediately agree to give up Sarraff, a cryptographer who Washington says helped it disrupt Cuban spy rings in the United States.

And Obama, stung by the outcry over his May 2014 exchange of five Taliban detainees for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, was wary of another trade perceived as lopsided, according to people close to the situation.

He weighed other options, including having the Cubans plead guilty to the charges against them and be sentenced to time served, according to the people.

Gilbert worked with the Obama administration, but urged it to move faster. From his vantage point, the turning point came in April 2014, when it became clear key Obama officials would support a full commutation of the Cuban prisoners’ sentences.

“TEARS IN OUR EYES”

The last puzzle piece slid into place at a Feb. 2014 White House meeting with lawmakers including Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Sen. Dick Durbin.

Obama hammered home his opposition to a straight Gross-Cuban Three trade, two people present said. Durbin, in an interview, said he “raised the possibility of using the Vatican and the Pope as intermediaries.”

Pope Francis would bring the Catholic Church’s moral influence and his status as the first pontiff from Latin America. It was also protection against harsh critics such as Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez.

Leahy persuaded two Catholic cardinals to ask Francis to raise Cuba and the prisoners when he met Obama in March. The Pope did so, then wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro.

“What could be better than the president being be able to tell Menendez or anybody else, ‘Hey, The Pope asked me?’” a congressional aide said.

The deal was finalized in late October in Rome, where the U.S. and Cuban teams met separately with Vatican officials, then all three teams together.

Rhodes and Zuniga met the Cubans again in December to nail down logistics for the Dec. 17 announcements of prisoner releases, easing of U.S. sanctions, normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations and Cuba’s freeing of 53 political prisoners.

Gilbert was aboard the plane to Cuba that would bring Gross home. Landing at a military airfield, Gilbert met Cuban officials who had been in charge of Gross for five years. “Many of us from both countries had tears in our eyes,” Gilbert said.

Castro and Obama, whose Cuba policy still faces vocal opposition from anti-Castro lawmakers, will come face to face at next month’s Western Hemisphere summit in Panama. Aides have dared to imagine that Obama could be the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

“We’re in new territory here,” Rhodes said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Anna Yukhananov, Lesley Wroughton and Mark Hosenball in Washington, and Dan Trotta in Havana. Editing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings)

10 Arab Nations Join US-Led Coalition against Islamic State

Isis: Ten Arab Nations Join US-Led Coalition against Islamic State
US Secretary of State John Kerry poses with his Arab counterparts in Jeddah.

Ten Arab nations have announced they are to join a US-led coalition against Isis (known as Islamic State) militants.

In a joint statement, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, said they “will do their share” to fight against the jihadist group that has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The development marks a major diplomatic success for Washington and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had embarked on a Middle East tour to lobby for a greater Arab role in the fight against extremists. 

In fact, some of the ten states have tense diplomatic relations due to their rivalry on other regional issues.

Qatar and Turkey’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has put the two countries at odds with Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt.

The announcement came after Kerry met delegates from the ten countries in the Saudi government’s summer seat of Jeddah.

The group of states said they assessed plans to eradicate IS “wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria” and pledged to join in “many aspects of a coordinated military campaign” against the militant organisation.

They also promised to support the new Iraqi government and stop the flow of funds and fighters that have boosted IS power.

Representatives from Turkey attended the meeting but did not sign the agreement and refused to let the coalition use its bases to launch air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

“Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations,” a government spokesperson speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.

Earlier, Russia condemned Washington plan to target IS militants in Syria, saying it would consider air strikes an “act of aggression” if carried out without a UN mandate and the assent of the regime of Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad.

The US has already launched limited air strikes against IS in Iraq at the request of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

IS launched its offensive on Iraq from its heartland of north-eastern Syria, capturing key Sunni towns and cities such as Mosul and Tikrit.

It has now declared a “caliphate” that straddles the Iraqi-Syrian border and represents a greater landmass than that of the United Kingdom.

According to the UN, over 1.6 million people have been displaced by conflict in Iraq this year while 850,000 people fled their homes in August alone.

NSA, GCHQ have secret access to German telecom networks – report

Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach

US and UK intelligence services have secret access points for German telecom companies’ internal networks, Der Spiegel reports, citing slides created in the NSA’s ‘Treasure Map’ program used to get near-real-time visualization of the global internet.

The latest scandal continues to evolve around the US’ NSA and the British GCHQ, both of which appear to be able to eavesdrop on German giants such as Deutsche Telekom, Netcologne, Stellar, Cetel and IABG network operators, according to Der Spiegel’s report based on material disclosed by Edward Snowden.

The Treasure Map program, dubbed “the Google Earth of the Internet,” allows the agencies to expose the data about the network structure and map individual routers as well as subscribers’ computers, smartphones and tablets.

 

The German telecoms had “access points” for technical supervision inside their networks, marked as red dots on such a map, shown on one of the leaked undated slides, Spiegel reports, warning it could be used for planning sophisticated cyber-attacks.

The Treasure map, first mentioned by the New York Times last year, provides “a near real-time, interactive map of the global Internet,” offering a “300,000 foot view of the Internet,” as it gathers Wi-Fi network and geolocation data as well as up to 50 million unique Internet provider addresses.

The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) spokesman told the DPA news agency that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Telekom has been informed, and that the authorities are analyzing the situation.

One of the companies, Stellar, meanwhile voiced fury over US and British spying. “A cyber-attack of this kind clearly violates German law,” said one if its heads.

Deutsche Telekom and Netcologne said they had not identified any data breaches but Deutsche Telekom’s IT security chief Thomas Tschersich said, that the “access of foreign secret services to our network would be totally unacceptable.”

“We are looking into any indication of a possible manipulation. We have also alerted the authorities,” he stated.

The headquarters of Deutsche Telekom AG in Bonn, Germany (Reuters / Ina Fassbender)

The headquarters of Deutsche Telekom AG in Bonn, Germany (Reuters / Ina Fassbender)

GCHQ said that its work “is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight” by other government agencies, Bloomberg news reported. The NSA is yet to comment on the latest round of allegations involving Treasure Map.

The US and Germany have been at odds because of a spying row which has bubbled ever since Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency revelations in June 2013.

In October, it was revealed the NSA had been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls since 2002.

A German parliamentary committee has since been holding hearings on the NSA’s spying activities in Germany. Berlin also announced it had discovered an alleged American spy in the country’s Defense Ministry.

While most of the criticism is focused on the US, some believe it’s the German leadership’s inability to react properly to the NSA tapping leaks that’s led to yet another spying scandal. Merkel’s opponents have repeatedly blamed her for too mild a response to the NSA global surveillance revelations.

Germany has also been involved in scandals surrounding the country’s own spying activity. In August, it was reported that German foreign intelligence agency has been tapping Turkey for almost four decades as well as having eavesdropped on at least one telephone conversation of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Henry Kissinger’s ‘New World Order’

From left: Henry Kissinger with current US secretary of state John Kerry and former holders of the post James Baker and Colin Powell at a groundbreaking ceremony for the US Diplomacy Center museum in Washington on September 3
From left: Henry Kissinger with current US secretary of state John Kerry and former holders of the post James Baker and Colin Powell at a groundbreaking ceremony for the US Diplomacy Center museum in Washington on September 3

Henry Kissinger’s latest opus is exquisitely timed. The Middle East is ablaze from Gaza to Iraq and Syria. Russia under Vladimir Putin has turned revanchist, annexing Crimea and mounting a stealth invasion of eastern Ukraine. China is jockeying for power and influence in the Pacific and beyond, testing the resolve of a war-weary America.

We are watching a world in disorder. The question is how far these convulsions are due to a power vacuum in the international system. Kissinger, 91, Harvard academic-turned-secretary of state to two US presidents, does not tackle this head-on in World Order but it is implicit in every page. The answers he suggests go to the heart of the debate about American leadership.

Henry Kissinger

For the past 25 years, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US has occupied the role of hegemon. The unipolar moment is now coming to an inglorious end.

Under Barack Obama, the US has arguably over-corrected. The emphasis has been on bringing the troops home, first in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. Yet now the US is poised to re-engage militarily in the Middle East and is struggling to contain Putin. Policy in the wake of the Arab Awakening has been equally piecemeal.

President Hosni Mubarak was dumped in the name of Egyptian democracy in 2011 but Washington turned a blind eye to the military coup that two years later ousted the admittedly incompetent and intolerant Muslim Brotherhood. Colonel Muammer Gaddafi was toppled in Libya, largely due to pressure from Britain and France.

Libya is now falling apart, riven by gangs and tribal rivalry. In Syria, Obama invoked a red line over the use of chemical weapons but faltered when confronted with evidence that Bashar al-Assad had indeed deployed WMD against his own people.

From the vantage point of Moscow and Beijing, not just the laptop bombardiers in the western media, the US appears irresolute and lacking a sense of strategy. Yet America, Kissinger argues persuasively, must play a leadership role to preserve world order – not as a moralising global policeman but as a hard-nosed great power acting in concert with allies, and sometimes with rivals, to maintain equilibrium and keep the threat of war within tolerable limits. Someone, in other words, has to manage the peace.

World Order reprises the themes of earlier works such as the magisterial Diplomacy (1994) and A World Restored (1957), the young Harvard professor’s paean to Prince Klemens von Metternich, the 19th century master-diplomat.

Kissinger’s model for world order is the “concert of Europe” that held sway between 1815 and 1914 and drew inspiration from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War, a conflict in which political and religious disputes commingled and nearly a quarter of the population of central Europe died from combat, disease or starvation.

The Peace of Westphalia marked a breakthrough because it relied on independent states refraining from interference in each other’s affairs and recognising a balance of power on the continent. As Kissinger observes, pointedly: Westphalia “reflected a practical accommodation to reality, not a unique moral insight”.

These words sum up Realpolitik, of which Kissinger and his boss Richard Nixon were arch-exponents. The dark side was America’s secret front in Cambodia during the Vietnam war, and the covert operation to undermine the Marxist president Salvador Allende in Chile.

Today, it is more fashionable to dwell on the duo’s foreign policy successes: détente with the Soviet Union, the opening to Communist China, the Paris accords ending the Vietnam war, and the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

These are given their due in a book that is part history, part lecture, part memoir. There are gaps: Africa and Latin America barely feature, and there is insufficient discussion about the role of non-state actors. The latest expression is Isis, a group of fanatical and well-financed Islamist fighters seeking to establish a Caliphate stretching from Syria through northern Iraq.

But there are other forms, such as Putin’s irregulars in eastern Ukraine and Chinese cyber-hackers. Each exploits asymmetry and (vaguely) plausible deniability to challenge traditional doctrines such as deterrence, which have underpinned world order.

At times, Kissinger’s portentous aphorisms are beyond parody. Thus Germany is “either too weak or too strong”; Russia is “a uniquely ‘Eurasian’ power, sprawling across two continents but never entirely at home in either”. China and America are both “indispensable pillars of world order”. Theocratic Iran “must decide whether it is a country or a cause”.

Kissinger blames the new world disorder first on the unravelling of the modern state. In Europe this has happened by design, as part of the development of a union whose members have agreed to pool sovereignty, at the expense of being an effective international actor. In the Middle East, the state has corroded from neglect, dissolving into sectarian and ethnic conflict often exacerbated by outside powers.

Second, there is the mismatch between the world’s economic system, which is based on the free flow of goods and capital, and a political system that remains national. For Kissinger, this contradiction partly accounts for a succession of economic crises driven by speculation and under-appreciation of risk.

Economics is not Kissinger’s strongest suit. He is more fluent writing about the lack of effective mechanisms for leading nations to consult on pressing issues. None of the regional forums such as Asean or Apec works, and the Group of Seven summits have been captured by bureaucrats.

Above all, Kissinger frets about America, which he labels “the ambivalent superpower”. He is careful to pay tribute to George W Bush’s resolve after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and admits that he himself backed the removal of Saddam Hussein.

But he is dismayed by the naive trillion-plus-dollar effort at democracy-building in the Middle East, a region with little historical experience of such western political values, to be accomplished on an absurdly tight US election timetable. There was, he declares with understatement, a “Sisyphean quality” to the whole exercise.

Barack Obama fares little better. The new world disorder would test the mettle of any US president, especially one faced with an implacable Republican opposition in Congress. But the US remains the most powerful country in the world. The Obama presidency does not compare well with, say, Harry Truman’s after 1945 or George HW Bush’s in 1989.

Kissinger is worried about the dangers of a power vacuum left by a weakened president and a dispirited American public. One specific concern is the future of the nuclear talks with Iran, a state he views with great suspicion. He frets about the mullahs whose concept of jihad (struggle) is fundamentally at odds with Westphalian order.

If the talks fail, he argues, the danger is nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East, a hugely destabilising development. He is more optimistic about US relations with China, a more natural supporter of Westphalian order (notably on non-interference in other countries’ affairs).

A Sinophile by temperament, Kissinger believes China’s rise can and should be accommodated as long as it does not fundamentally upset the balance of power.

German Intel Says Pro-Russian Rebels Stole Missile Launcher And Shot Down MH17

People talk near the remains of fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency has concluded that pro-Russian rebels are to blame for the downing of Malaysia Airline MH17 in Ukraine in July, Der Spiegel weekly reported on Sunday, the first European agency to say so.

The crash over pro-Russian rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17 killed all 298 passengers and crew and led to a further deterioration of ties between the West and Moscow, who are in dispute over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

Gerhard Schindler, president of the BND, told a secret parliamentary committee on security affairs earlier this month that separatists had used a Russian Buk missile defense system from a Ukrainian base to fire a rocket that exploded directly next to the Malyasia Air plane, Der Spiegel reported.

“It was pro-Russian separatists,” the magazine quoted him as saying.

The BND concluded the rebels were to blame after a detailed analysis based on satellite and other photos, Der Spiegel said. Noone at the BND was immediately available to comment.

Kiev blames the incident on the rebels and accused Moscow of arming them, but the rebels and Moscow deny the accusations.

European governments have so far refrained from openly pointing the finger, but shortly after the crash U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was strong evidence that Moscow-backed separatists had downed the plane.

The Dutch government, which has two investigations underway into the downing of the airliner, has yet to say who was responsible. Two thirds of the passengers were Dutch.

A preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board last month said the airliner crashed due to a “large number of high-energy objects” from outside the aircraft. It drew no conclusions as to where they came from.